Minimal Ubuntu 12.04 Install with Only MATE

Minimal Ubuntu 12.04 Install with Only MATE

In a previous article I talked about replacing Unity with MATE on Ubuntu 12.04. It is working out very well for me but I still feel like there is more that can be done. Too many resources are being spent for things that got left over from Unity and it is bugging me.

Minimal Ubuntu Install

First things first, we need to do a minimal install of Ubuntu. You have two options here:

  • You can use the netboot disc. When prompted later in the installation do not install any of the pre-configured setups as we will install the packages we need later.
  • You can use the alternative disc. When the disc first boots just press F4 Mode and select “Install a command-line system“.

I like the netboot option best because it downloads all the latest packages during install so there is less mess. I have also had random problems with it not being able to find some packages since Ubutnu 12.04 was released. If that happens the alternative disc works just as well and will be faster since it has all its packages on the disc. It really does not matter which you choose for our purposes.

Both support encryption and both support RAID so feel free to use those if you like. I will not be covering them or the rest of the installation in this article.

Install MATE

Since everything here requires root just do an sudo -i first. Remember to log out of root (Ctrl-D) before starting MATE. Would be a good idea to do an apt-get update && apt-get upgrade before, too.

First we need to add the MATE repositories. Using nano add the following to /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb precise main
deb-src precise main

Next we need to install the packages (you can answer the hddtemp question however you like when it comes up):

apt-get update
apt-get install -y --force-yes mate-archive-keyring mate-desktop-environment xinit
apt-get update

Now all you need to do is login, type startx, and you are done! … sort of… if you are happy with the way things are you may now go away.


You now have an fast and low-resource traditional desktop at your finger tips with the stability of Linux and all the packages Ubuntu has to offer. I am so proud of you.

On my dinky little Atom-based netbook, with MATE running, this setup eats virtually 0% CPU and ~150MB of memory. Disk usage sits at ~1.7GB which is a little higher than I would like but storage is cheap so I am not too worried about it (probably all the xinit dependencies). Boot time is in the mid-single digits and that is on a 5,400 RPM disk. I imagine a decent USB stick will be very similar but I have yet to test that.

I am very happy with all this. Of course you, dear reader, are not so you will continue reading… blood from a stone, Internet Person…

MATE Extras

As of right now your menus are looking pretty bare and your audio might not work. By virtue of what I set out to accomplish there is very little installed. Here are some packages that may prove very helpful:

apt-get install zram-config preload synaptic gparted brasero mate-media-pulse mate-settings-daemon-pulse mate-bluetooth bluez-cups cups cups-pdf system-config-printer-gnome mate-conf-editor wine libreoffice libreoffice-pdfimport firefox pidgin thunderbird xul-ext-lightning vlc gimp gimp-data-extras jockey-gtk usb-creator-gtk network-manager-gnome

I am sure you will want to install a hell of a lot more but I will leave that up to you. You may want to install less, in which case do an aptitude show [package] to see what a package does before installing.

For some reason there is no supplied way to do “nothing” when the laptop lid is closed. If you want this functionality back start up mateconf-editor, set /apps/mate-power-manager/buttons/lid_ac and /apps/mate-power-manager/buttons/lid_battery to nothing.

Auto Boot into MATE

Maybe you want to automatically boot into MATE. Maybe you are just that lazy. Maybe a white-on-black terminal killed your father and now, as a result, you are too afraid to face one… fear not, citizen! We did not install a display manager since MATE does not currently come with one but we can easily fix all that with a single command:

apt-get install slim

slim is very light weight which is why I chose it. The trade off is it does not support much besides logging you in. After installed just open /etc/slim.conf and set default_user to your username and auto_login to yes (make sure you uncomment both, of course). The MATE Wiki also recommends that you stick exec ck-launch-session mate-session in .xinitrc but everything works fine without it for me so experiment with it.

If you really, really do not want to install a display manager (like me) you could just stick startx at the bottom of .bash_profile (if it does not exist create it). This file sits in your home directory and is executed every time you log in.

Known Issues/Notes

There are a few things that are not show-stoppers for me but I want to spend some time fixing later.

  • Want to get Compiz and all those snazzy effects working. I have been experimenting with varying success. Have not gotten it to work just right yet.
  • I miss my Open With Archive Mounter from nautilus. Just either need to figure out the right package or Caja configuration (not sure which yet).
  • VLC does not inhibit screen blanking when running in full screen. This is really, really annoying to me as I use my netbook for entertainment while on long trips.
  • For some odd reason nm-applet (part of network-manager-gnome) will not start up until you comment out all references to your primary network adapter in /etc/network/interfaces and reboot. I only noticed it after I tried to connect to my wireless network so if you only have a wired connection you may not care about this.
  • Putting startx in .bash_profile may cause an issue if you log in from anywhere other than the terminal. For example, an SSH connection. Also if you need a terminal after breaking X, MATE, or something this might make it harder to fix. I am sure there is a better place to put startx but I have to look up where. For now it is probably better to just go with the display manager method above if you do not want to be bothered.

I am sure I will come across some things as I play with this some more. When I do I will update this article. Please feel free to leave any comments with any issues you find and we will see what we can do about them.

Of course, if you are not insane like me, you could have just installed Linux Mint with MATE in the first place.

Update 2012.09.06
I am not playing with this any longer since I got Linux Mint 13 encrypted up and running. It is not likely I will update this article further. The two are not exactly the same but I have little free time so something has to give.

10 thoughts on “Minimal Ubuntu 12.04 Install with Only MATE

  1. Thank you for the nice howto; got this working like a charm on my old netbook 😉

    p.s. If you get this error (during the first step of adding the reppositories):

    W: GPG error: precise InRelease: The following signatures couldn’t be verified because the public key is not available: NO_PUBKEY 68980A0EA10B4DE8

    gpg –keyserver –recv-keys 68980A0EA10B4DE8
    gpg -a –export 68980A0EA10B4DE8 | sudo apt-key add –

    Same for the other key. (deb-src key)

  2. Hello,

    which are the packages needed to have audio controls? I don’t think mate-media-pulse is enough…


    1. It has been a while but I am pretty sure I recall having the audio control within MATE. If not please respond with what you did to fix the issue.

      Are you using Ubuntu 12.04? If not things may have changed…

      1. Hi,

        Yes, I’m using 12.04. I found which are the essential packages in order to have audio control working:

        * mate-media (mate-volume-control; grecord; gstreamer-properties; profiles; gst-mixer)
        * mate-media-pulse (the Mate PulseAudio-based audio mixer)
        * alsa-base
        * alsa-utils (necessary for alsamixer for the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture)
        * mate-settings-daemon-pulse (daemon responsible for setting various parameters of a Mate session)

        That is what works for me.


    1. The netboot and minimal images are very similar. I am not sure the exact differences but both should work just fine.

      Just remember it has been a while since I did this. There may be a little experimentation involved.

  3. Hi

    After i install the Mate Extras my ubuntu 12.04 doesn’t load more the x server. It says “Failed to login Session ‘Ubuntu'”. I don’t know what is happening, I have already tried with de Nouveau and AMD drivers, and the results are the same. Without the Slim, the X server is loaded but it just appears the icons on my Desktop and just the functions of the right click of the mouse are available, the taskbar also doesn’t appears. Anyone here have ever had this problem or know how to solve this problem ?

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